I love my name.
by Saideh Jamshidi, Global Connect Chicago Blogger
What is your name?
Have you ever struggled to pronounce your name in English?
Perhaps you have gone so far as to change your name to avoid the awkward and ugly sound of the mispronunciation of your name?
My name is Saideh. It means a “happy woman” in Arabic. And yes, in fact, I am a happy woman. Sometimes I am even a naively optimistic and foolishly forward-looking individual. These may sound like positive traits, but they can often be a hindrance in this world of pessimism and political correctness.
However, when I first moved to the United States I could not relate to the meaning of my name – I was not happy.
I decided to call this country my new home a few years ago. I speak and write in English -- the beautiful language of Milton, Shakespeare and Hemingway. I have even started to dream in English. The characters in my dreams have adapted to this new language too. Even figures in my dreams no longer appear in Farsi, my native language. Even my parents, whom do not converse in English in real life, speak with flawless American accents in my dreams.
I have become so assimilated with this culture that I can now cook an omega size Thanksgiving turkey, perfectly fry mashed potatoes, and even bake cornbread.
Sadly, all of my Americanisms evaporate as soon as I open my mouth and sing my name with my Farsi-English accent. Behind the rhythm, people hear a foreign, exotic, and strange melody.
Looking back, I realize that I was too eager to be a full-fledged American. I wanted people to consider me an insider. In order to make my road to becoming an American easier, I decided to change the spelling of my name when I became a US citizen.
I thought that if I removed some of the vowels in the original spelling – S-a-e-e-d-e-h – people would have an easier time pronouncing it. The new spelling became “S-a-i-d-e-h.” In my mind, I had no doubt that people would have an easier time with the new spelling.
Of course, it was not long before I was proved wrong.
Even after I was naturalized and received an American passport and got the right to vote, no one could understand my name properly.
I often have to pronounce my name 3 to 4 times in order to be understood. The sounds that make up my name seem to require quite a bit of tongue aerobics. People slide their jaws to the left, then to the right as they force their lower lip forward and say things like “Saee,” or “Sadah” or “Saeeeeeeedah.”
I always appreciated their efforts but feel like my name is a barrier between us.
I have thought, read, and contemplated over my name far too long. The best explanation I have found find about one’s name in a new place is from the book The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. (The book was adapted into a movie in 1996 and won nine Academy Awards.) In the book, Count Almasy, a Hungarian, says: “But I wanted to erase my name and the place I had come from. By the time war arrived, after ten years in the desert, it was easy for me to slip across borders, not to belong to anyone, to any nation.”
One’s name is a sacred object. It is an attachment that helps someone to feel connected, and to feel a sense of belonging. In a recent study, the New York Times examined more than 500 applications at the Civil Court in New York City. New York has a greater foreign-born population than any other city in the United States, so it was an obvious place to look. The study revealed that only “a half a dozen of those applications appeared to be obviously intended to Anglicize or abbreviate the surname with Latin America or Asia.”
The truth of the matter is that I do not feel foreign anymore. I can speak fluent English and I can compose perfect lines. But my struggle to sound normal and natural never seems to end. My most recent battle with this issue occurred as I became a Chicago Connect blogger. I saw this as an opportunity to once again attempt to simplify my name.
So I decided to try to solve the problem of “Saideh” by changing my name to “Saba.” (Saba means ”zephyr” or “gentle breeze” in Farsi.)
I thought this would solve my problems. I thought I was being clever. But then I was faced with the same old reality while ordering a soy late at Starbucks recently.
“You said your name was what?” the cashier asked.
“Saba,” I said.
“Excuse me, what?” she exclaimed.
“Saba,” I said, “S-A-B-A.”
She thanked me with a fake big smile.
So, on second thought I reconsidered and will change my name back to what it was and what is supposed to be: Saideh.